The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Local News

June 26, 2006

Cooper warns legislators about cable franchise changes

Sunday, June 25, 2006 — A bill in the North Carolina General Assembly changing the way cable companies are regulated is being questioned by Attorney General Roy Cooper.

“Although the intent of increased competition is good, I believe this legislation needs better protection for consumers,” Cooper wrote in a letter to legislators Tuesday.

Senate Bill 1559 and House Bill 2047 would change North Carolina’s practice of local franchises for cable TV to a statewide franchise if a competitor such as a phone company chooses to offer television service in the same area.

One major concern expressed by Cooper was that service providers would offer urban areas cheaper rates and smaller communities would pay more to make up the difference.

Cooper wrote there was “no real track record” because the deregulation idea was new and had been become practice in just a few communities across the country.

“I’m concerned that we are rushing into this without making sure we aren’t leaving consumers behind,” Cooper wrote.

Another concern expressed by Cooper was servicing consumer complaints.

Currently, consumers contact local government when they have a complaint. Under the new legislation, this responsibility shifts to the Attorney General’s office with no funding provided for staff to investigate complaints.

“Looking at the current experience of some local governments, there is a potential for 50,000 statewide complaints per year,” Cooper wrote.

“Now, we handle approximately 75,000 important consumer complaints annually and help get refunds and solve problems. This legislation alone would increase complaints we receive by two-thirds.”

Cooper likened the legislation to a few years back when there was push to deregulate electricity.

“We were smart to wait and see how it panned out in other states because the results weren’t good,” Cooper wrote.

Agreeing with Cooper’s wait-and-see proposal was District 67 Rep. David Almond, who said Thursday he would vote against it.

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